San Francisco has only a few German restaurants. The demand for tables exceeds the supply to such an extent that I’m surprised that more German restaurants don’t open. The venerable Suppenküche Hayes and Laguna (which I guess is in the Western Addition, though just west of Civic Center) only takes reservations for parties of six or more. Schmidt’s on Folsom and 20th does not take reservations (or plastic). The wait for tables there has kept me from testing the food whenever I’ve tried to eat at Schmidt’s.
Walzwerk, on South Van Ness near 15th street is owned by the same people who own Schmidt’s, takes reservations for parties of four or more and takes plastic for payment. Schmidt’s seems to serve mostly sausages of various sorts (with sauerkraut, of course).
Too many of the entrés at Welzwerk come with mashed potatoes. The last time I had more than a demiforkful of mashed potatoes was on Thanksgiving, 1967. My dining companions and I chose the three entrées from the regular menu with meat and without mashed potatoes:
Jägerschnitzel (porkloin) with Spätzle and Creamy Mushrooom Sauce ($16)
Sauerbraten (marinated beef) with Potato Dumpling and Red Cabbage ($18)
Beef Roulade (tri-tip stuffed with ham, pickles, onions, and mustard) with Spätzleand Red Cabbage ($18)
All three were hearty meals with fairly thick sauce. We also order potato pancakes ($7) and received a complimentary appetizer, as well. One of the two roulades was stuffed with nothing. On my next visit, I’m ordering the Jägerschnitzel and/or asking about substituting spätzle for mashed potatoes on one of the other meat entrées).
The decor is East German, including a DDR flag and large portraits of the holy trinity of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. I was sitting under those, but, above the door, I could see an official portrait of the last East German communist leader, the bespectacled Erich Honecker (technically, he was succeeded by Egon Krenz for the final months before reunification. for a few months, but Honecker ruled from 1973-89).
The unmatched cutlery and chairs and tables seemingly randomly assembled from thrift stores add to the nostalgia de la boue of communist Eastern Europe. The friendly, helpful, and very pretty waitress was very different from the dowdy, brusque, and fat waitresses of yore there, just as the ample portions of food did not invoke the scarcities of communist Germany, a regime that was pushed toward extinction by coffee shortages. And there are vegetarian dishes, not just vegetables cooked in bacon fat. The owners mostly confine the “East German” to the look, knowing that if they resurrected the taste of communist-era eastern European restaurants, there would be very few takers.
The one notable bow to the concept of “East German restaurant” was “cold dog” ($6) on the dessert menu. “Cold dog” cobbled together in layers butter cookies and chocolate cookies. What Walzerk serves as “cold dog” is quite elegant layer cake (see photo #5).
Though pricey for the Mission District, the food was good. So was the service. And there were almost as many people waiting for tables as there were people seated at tables when we left at 7:45.
The restaurant, at 81 South Van Ness, is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5:30-10 PM.